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Susan Underhill calls it the perfect storm.

Retiring baby boomers and fewer bodies entering the labor market with IT skills will leave the United States with a significant shortage in qualified employees in less than a decade, as demand for those skills only grows.

“This is every American’s problem,” Underhill, vice president of Hewlett-Packard’s Global Solution Partners Organization, told ChannelInsider. “We had the same problem in the 1990s, and the cost of the industry went sky high as unqualified people demanded quarter-million-dollar salaries. It’s not good for anyone. If we don’t plan now, that’s what we face again. It’s time to make an investment in our future.”

Underhill and CompTIA are planning ahead with a program, both pragmatic and civic-minded, to fill the gap with groups from underserved communities—recently discharged military veterans, youth in poor neighborhoods, people with disabilities and displaced workers—trained in entry-level IT skills.

Creating Futures aims to expose those groups of people to careers in IT and provide road maps for qualified individuals to career paths; scholarships to technical schools, community colleges and IT training programs; and internships in the industry.

“We must create a pool of IT talent, the masses to fill those entry-level jobs that will be needed,” Underhill said. “What better source than people who are just as likely to be talented and committed but, for whatever reason, were disadvantaged and never had access to this sort of education.”

The gap goes beyond the looming baby-boom brain drain. The current generation is not entering the IT fields or exiting their educations with IT degrees or skills.

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Part of the reason may be the turmoil the industry has faced in recent years, said Steve Ostrowski, CompTIA’s corporate public relations manager. “How many kids grew up and saw their parents laid off at the end of the ’90s? You might not encourage your kids to follow in your footsteps.”

Creating Futures is asking the IT community, VARs and integrators especially to contribute not only money, but time and access to their businesses to expose candidates to the field, Underhill said.

VARs are uniquely positioned and would be well-served to participate in the solution, said MJ Shoer, president of Jenaly Technology Group, of Portsmouth, N.H.

“From a business owner’s perspective, we’re only helping ourselves,” Shoer said. “If we don’t, it will cost in aggravation and money.”

Shoer, who employs seven but plans to expand this year and in the future, remembers the IT shortage of the 1990s when salaries rose to extremes as big companies hired every possible candidate and smaller companies were left competing for scraps and paying dearly for them, he said.

I can remember getting resumes for desktop techs requesting $70,000,” he said. “It raises the costs for everyone, end users included, and the whole market will be in trouble.

“We would be well-advised to get these people trained on their way to careers,” he added. “Besides, it’s also the right thing to do.”